Yesterday, Siva and I had coffee with Bradford Cross, the co-founder of Prismatic. We caught up on all the things we’re up to recently, mainly about the startups we’re involved with. As you’re probably aware, he’s doing amazing work at Prismatic, and they’re totally blowing up. He had a ton of great advice for folks getting started on new stuff, but here’s one thing that really stood out.
For some context, distribution is the answer to the question of “what is the plan to acquire users?” The typical Lean Startup process focuses first on product/market fit, and you don’t worry about scaling distribution until you actually have something that users get value from. Which makes sense; if you don’t have a product that delivers value to at least some people, you can’t have a viable business.
However, Brad’s point was that that is rather late in the process to start thinking about distribution. Folks should be paying attention to distribution right from the beginning, even during MVP development. One part of that is thinking about your voice and your conversation with your potential audience, your outbound marketing, campaign-based user-acquisition, and so on. But it also means planning (and maybe even implementing) features for your product that can organically increase sign ups.
The common feature people add to address this (and in fact, hope to become “viral” from it), is social publishing and sharing. The problem with this is that there is too much of it – most applications let you share/invite others, and the question becomes why anyone would want to do this with your product. And why would the person on the receiving end even care.
The answer is obvious – in order for there to be a successful outcome, there needs to be explicit value to both sides. It is your job to figure out what these features are for your product.
Minimal Viable Business = MVP + Distribution
So here’s the bottom line: it’s as important to figure out your product/market fit as it is to figure out that you have a viable (scalable) business. After all, you may have a lifestyle business, and just not know it. By thinking about this as early in the game as possible, you’ll be better positioned to plan a blow up.
Cross-posted to Zolo Labs.
I didn’t realize just how true my previous post about the minimum MVP might end up being. When we first conceived of Zolodeck, we figured we’d build it the Lean Way. In that process, we came up with an MVP – and this included support for LinkedIn, Twitter, email inboxes (GMail, etc), and possibly, Facebook.
Cross-posted to Zolo Labs.
The start of a new project is always exciting… there’s the anticipation of awesomeness that can make one giddy 🙂 It’s the potential of the idea, the opportunity of the clean slate, the possibility of applying all learnings to date, and the hope of doing things right.
Of course, a business is more than just the product. Somewhere, there’s got to be money involved. And for that, there have to be people who get enough value that they actually pay you. And that you can take in more than you spend to provide the service…
Here’s the thing, though: if your product is in a “new” space (hasn’t everything that could be invented, already been invented?), then how do you know if you’re building something anyone cares about? This is where the minimum viable product (the much talked about MVP) comes in: the idea is that you build just enough for your early users to try out the product and give you critical feedback that would help you understand the market and its needs. Obviously, these early adopters are not the majority, so the data gathered needs to be adjusted accordingly.
So far, so good – the MVP approach looks really good for new products. For Zolodeck, for instance, we came up with what we thought was a fairly thinly sliced product. What we didn’t count on was that since Zolodeck is still a nights and weekends project (a labor of love, if you will), we don’t quite have enough time to build the MVP of our dreams. So we’re now building a minimum MVP. We’re calling it, wait for it… an MMVP.
Given that we’re so resource constrained right now, Lean ideas really help. And the MMVP takes this to an extreme – we have to choose just those 1-2 things (maybe just 1 thing) that are the most important to test right now. We really need to think through prioritization of our feature road-map, and decide what to build next. The prioritization needs to take into account everything we can think of – product/market fit, business and technical risks, and so on.
We’ll post updates here as we make progress. For now, we’re hoping to get something into the hands of our first dozen users in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
Cross-posted to Zolo Labs.
An interesting question cropped up over dinner the other night – does metrics-driven design have any place in the world of designer-driven product design? For instance, Apple is famous for not using focus groups and so on, and instead relies on their own processes and practices to develop their amazing products.
I’m a huge believer in Lean methods for developing products and building a business (I’ve written about this before, and spoken about it as well). I’m also a huge Apple fan-boy (yes, I wept when Jobs passed). And obviously, Apple does a lot of things right when it comes to developing products.
So how do these two ways of driving product design mesh with each other?
My point of view is that they’re not mutually exclusive. While there’s no substitute for vision (and thereby designer-driven product creation), metrics can serve as an excellent sanity check. They’re really guard-rails, guide-posts, safety-net, compass, or whatever analogy you want to use. They can be especially useful when the product is in a “new category” and where there may not be established usage patterns or user behaviors to draw from.
If you buy into the “iterations are awesome, fail-fast, learn-improve-repeat” process, then you really can’t do it without metrics. And, of course, you need the right metrics, but that can be a post for another day.
Cross-posted to Zolo Labs.
I’ve had some downtime from work recently, and have been working on a side project with a friend. (Isn’t that what vacations are for?) We’re calling it Zolodeck. One of the first things we did is decide that we want this to be driven completely by future users. So this is an experiment in user-driven product design, you might say.
Technically, we’re tracking everything that a user can do. This data gets fed into our data-digester. Yes, that’s the technical term. And out comes Insight. The idea is to use these insights to decide how to evolve the project.
We’re looking at several ways in which we can get the infrastructure to support all this, including building out our own. I know it will be a complete distraction from the goal of the project, so I’m certain we won’t go down that route. We’re still evaluating what we’ll end up with, so stay tuned on that. We do want to document our experiment here, so this notion of “metrics driven product design” should be a recurrent theme on this blog.
BTW, we’ll also add convenient text-boxes that users can use to drop us notes (mostly appreciative suggestions, but also hate-mail if they choose 🙂 ).
There should be none. I mean, sure, there should be some, but just enough to get over the hump of creating testable hypotheses. The hypotheses, should in turn, be iterations on your product – and they should be in the hands of your users.
There are just so many other things that cause a startup to fail, that optimizing the technology stack is just the wrong place to spend any resources. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use promising technologies if they can solve clearly anticipated problems. It does mean that you don’t want to waste resources in premature scaling. This, of course, applies to all aspects of your startup – tech, sales, support, etc.
As far as tech is concerned, pick the best tools for the job, and then move forward quickly. Don’t worry about being perfect (in fact, don’t be). Get traction first – no one cares how amazing your backend is.
This post is about startups and technology. Of course, nothing will help you if you don’t have a market, or traction, or a business model, or an actual product, or good people. Those are conversations for another day, but now, here’s what I’d use if I’m starting a startup today:
Am I missing stuff?